The Futures of a Skatepark, an Eagle Tree, and a Councilmember Hang in the Balance

Plus, pro basketball comes to Bellevue.

1. Residents on Mercer Island are once again rallying to save an ancient Douglas Fir, known to neighbors as the “eagle tree,” after property owner George Janiewicz submitted a proposal to reduce the stream and wetland buffers on the land where the tree resides. He is expected to apply for a future building permit.

The proposal notes that “an eagle nest is present on the site and habitat protection will be considered during the review.” Members of the East Mercer Highlands Homeowner Association sure hope so. They voiced their concerns about the proposal, sending a letter to the City and meeting with the City’s Development Services Group. The property is “a lush, steeply sloped, and undeveloped half acre of land, approximately 50 percent of which is a designated wetland,” according to the letter, written by Tim Fitzgerald on behalf of the association.

“[It] is home to innumerable species of plant and animal life, including an ancient Douglas Fir tree (diameter 80 inches) that is a documented bald eagle habitat,” according to the letter. “For as long as anyone can remember, and continuing through the present, the Eagle Tree has at all times contained an active bald eagle’s nest or been a location frequented by bald eagles.”

A decade ago, neighbors pooled together money to buy the land when Janiewicz first entertained developing the site. He declined their offer, which they said was above market value at the time. To stop the development plans, the neighborhood consulted with two arborists, a Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist and the head of the School of Forestry at the University of Washington, and appealed to the Planning Commission. The neighbors lost the appeal, largely due to testimony that the plan for the land would not harm the tree and its feathered inhabitants.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife later sent a letter threatening fines and jail time for harming the eagle tree, according to the recent letter.

The neighbors wrote that Janiewicz is now trying to downplay the level of eagle activity, claiming that the last verified activity was in 2005. According to his application, eagles were not observed during site visits in 2006 and 2017. The neighbors say they were not consulted during those visits, so they sent declarations to the city that they have observed eagles continuously, and recently. Mercer Island Reporter

2. A year ago, Jack Skeel and Brian Foss happened upon a slab of dry concrete beneath I-405 in Renton and envisioned a skateboarder’s paradise. Approximately $6,000 and more than 40,000 pounds of concrete later, the duo, along with some construction-worker friends, had built a skatepark that has since attracted skaters from across the region. Now they are on the verge of losing the destination.

It turns out the do-it-yourself skatepark was built on Washington State Department of Transportation property without permission. WSDOT caught wind of the park and informed Skeel on Nov. 16 of its plan to post an eviction notice Nov. 20, with a demolition scheduled for Nov. 22.

Skeel and Foss—the latter not to be confused with the Seattle punk demigod—decided to organize. They and their friends spread the word and nearly 20 skaters, skate enthusiasts, and supporters filled up Renton Council Chambers Nov. 20 to plead for help. Residents from Snoqualmie, Seattle, Maple Valley, Federal Way, Tacoma and other neighboring cities signed up to address the Council and ask for the city’s help to save the skatepark.

Even with the mass appeal, city leaders said their hands were tied.

Mayor Denis Law reiterated multiple times during the meeting that the city has little to no power over the matter.

“We’re not opposed to skateboard parks, but it is clear another state agency or county cannot abdicate their responsibility to the city,” Law said at the meeting. “It’s state-owned property. They must be responsible for liability, for the construction of the skateboard park, for all of the maintenance and upkeep.”

Following the council meeting, the plan to demolish the skatepark was put on hold. Skeel said an eviction notice was not posted Nov. 20.

WSDOT spokesperson Marqise Allen said the agency was notified of the skatepark during the first week of November by a city of Renton employee. Following the council meeting, WSDOT decided to allow the skaters to go through a permitting process to lease the land.

“It’s safety for the public,” said Allen in a phone interview. “We’ve got to be able to get access to the facilities, which is the bridge, and maintain the highway. It also comes down to … the safety of the folks out there…. We want to give the folks there every opportunity they have to be able to keep the skatepark and go through the process.” Renton Reporter

3. Two new developments have occurred in the Black Diamond recall case against Councilwoman Pat Pepper, who petitioners say has violated her “oath of office by not upholding Washington state laws regarding city governance” and that “[her] actions constitute malfeasance and misfeasance of office.”

First, the state Supreme Court denied a motion made by Neighbor to Neighbor Black Diamond—the community group that filed the recall effort against Pepper in April—to reconsider whether the group has to re-collect signatures for a recall ballot.

When the Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 26 that three charges can go forward with the recall, as opposed to the four approved by the King County Superior Court, King County Elections cancelled the Dec. 5 special recall election, telling Robbin Taylor, head of Neighbor to Neighbor, to re-collect signatures before another election date is set.

Neighbor to Neighbor had originally collected 639 signatures at the time the King County Superior Court approved four of the charges against Pepper in May. The county required 366 signatures.

The Supreme Court denied Taylor’s motion Nov. 13, meaning the group now has roughly five months to recollect the necessary 366 signatures before King County sets another election date.

This is, of course, if the second piece of news doesn’t further derail the group.

Pepper and her attorney, Dennis Reynolds, filed their own motion for reconsideration on Nov. 15 to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its October ruling.

The motion states the court failed to address all elements of the recall charges.

While the state Supreme Court considers the motion, Pepper is hosting a community meeting about the recall charges brought against her.

In a letter to residents, Pepper said the charges against her are false, and part of the reason the courts approved them was because she represented herself on the Superior Court level.

“With limited time and my lack of legal representation, important supporting evidence that could have ended the recall was not introduced into the record,” Pepper wrote. Maple Valley Reporter

4. While the City of Seattle is still far from scoring a professional basketball team, one Bellevue businessman is on a fastbreak to bring a pro team to the area by the beginning of 2019.

Former Microsoft executive Michael Nassirian was recently awarded a franchise in the new North American Premier Basketball league. The NAPB, which begins play in January, will feature eight teams in its inaugural season. It’s definitely not the NBA, but still, David Magley, the creator and president of the league, is excited about its future.

“The league has aggressive growth plans and expects to double in size by year two,” Magley said in a press release.

A meeting a few months ago with Magley played a pivotal role in Nassirian’s decision to become a franchise team owner.

“We had lunch and got to know each other,” Nassirian said. “We talked about not only the league, but we talked about the community and how bringing a sports team affects the community in many aspects. I’m so involved in the Bellevue community. Holistically, the community came around me and encouraged me to do that.”

Nassirian said former Seattle SuperSonics legend Freddie Brown also encouraged him to become an owner of a professional basketball franchise.

“Freddie Brown was one of the main factors for me choosing to do this,” Nassirian said. “I was on the fence for a long time. Freddie came to me and said, ‘Mike, do this and I’ll be behind you.’ ”

He noted a decision hasn’t been made on what facility will house the team, but every option is still on the table.

“We want a venue that can support 3,000 to 3,500 spectators to bring in a very manageable audience,” Nassirian said. “We are looking at every possible area.” Bellevue Reporter

5. A group of residents is fighting to stop a housing development that they say would impact Issaquah’s mountainous backdrop.

Over 300 locals formed the group Save Cougar Mountain to protest a proposal by the Windward Real Estate Services to build 57 new homes on a sloped piece of land known as the Bergsma property.

Windward has submitted a land-use application to the city of Issaquah to create the housing development.

According to Save Cougar Mountain, 60 percent of the proposed 45-acre development includes critical areas, with wetlands, streams and steep slopes.

Save Cougar Mountain member David Kappler called the development “high-impact development,” noting that the property includes six wetlands and three streams. To fit the houses in, two of the wetlands would be filled in and 22 acres of trees would be cut down. “The highest and best use of that property is a park or open space, not a development of homes,” Kappler said. Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter

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